Okay book #29 also turned out to be another quick (and really, really good) read. This is because the book was amazing and almost impossible to put down. I read The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins, and woah. This book was amazing. Sometimes when I read books too quickly I lose a lot of the details, but this Hawkins novel is an exception to that rule.
The novel read a bit like Gone Girl, complete with seemingly happy marriages, plenty of affairs, violence, an investigation, the staggered, converging timelines from different narrators, and most of all, mystery (aka the reason I couldn’t stop reading.) I might accidentally reveal some little spoilers coming up, but I promise I won’t ruin any huge twists.
The main character is the girl on the train, and her name is Rachel. She is a two years divorced, a few months jobless alcoholic who is keeping up the pretense of her job. During her “commute,” she passes the old house where her husband (Tom) lives with his old-mistress-turned-new-wife (Anna), and one of the primary reasons for the end of Rachel and Tom’s marriage.
It is during these regular train trips that she observes another couple – Scott and Megan – who lives a few houses down the street from Tom and Anna. She creates lives for them, imagines their perfect marriage, and develops a kind of obsession with them. She then witnesses an infidelity during one of her train trips, and thus becomes deeply involved in the case of Megan, who goes missing the day after Rachel sees her cheating.
I’m re-reading all of that and it sounds kind of far-fetched and unbelievable, but I promise it’s not. Hawkins is such a great writer, and the way that she presents seemingly random details about characters or a specific scenario is genius. Character traits, good and bad, are revealed slowly. It made me feel like I was actually meeting these people in real life.
Rachel’s just a woman on a train, going to and from London for work, and then you realize she has smuggled and is chugging mixed drinks by herself on the train, then she’s mentioning going to buy two bottles of wine, and you realize she may be an alcoholic. Then she makes a list of what she has to do in London, and you notice that her list doesn’t include going to work, and you realize she doesn’t have a job. All the characters are intricate puzzles like that, and you get the details as they would come to you in an actual acquaintance with someone – slowly, over the course of time.
And then, obviously, the rotating narratives that span separate sequences of time is always so effective. The reader hears from Megan almost a full year before her disappearance, but is getting the present day narrative from Rachel – who is often jumbled and confusing, because of her alcoholism and tendency to black out. Then Anna pops in from time to time, so the reader hears the very different perspectives of all the main women.
I swear, at various points in the novel I thought that every single character was the one responsible for Megan’s disappearance. Everyone, at one time or another, seems suspicious and vindictive and violent, and there are also these really cool parallels between a lot of the characters which adds to the mystery.
The ending did surprise me, but I don’t know that I would have been any more or less shocked if I found out that some other character was responsible in a different way. I feel like that’s a sign of good writing.
I’ve always been fascinated by the idea that you can never truly know someone, and this book acknowledges that in a really cool way. Rachel spends almost all her time observing a couple, making up an incredibly detailed life for them, based on brief observations a few times a week, separated by a train, a fence, a yard and a preliminary introduction.
This is understandable, obviously Rachel knows nothing about these people, and the fact that she’s made up lives for them is a little creepy (even though I feel like everyone does this, maybe just not to Rachel’s extent.) But this beautiful, married, golden couple can’t even really say that they know each other better than Rachel knows them from her seat on the train.
Tom and Anna don’t really know each other (no one really knows Tom); I got the sense that sometimes Megan didn’t really know herself; Anna and Rachel don’t know each other but they both spend the novel vehemently hating the other.
It’s eerie. And it makes me wonder: are we all spending our time with sociopaths, murderers, and pathological liars? Maybe. ◊
The holes in your life are permanent. You have to grow around them, like tree roots around concrete; you mold yourself through the gaps.”